Mumia Abu-Jamal can get new sentencing, Supreme Court decides


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The Supreme Court cleared the way Tuesday for convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal to have a new jury decide whether he should be resentenced to death or to life in prison.

The high court left in place rulings that set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence in a case that has drawn international attention since the 1980s.


The Philadelphia district attorney had asked the court to restore the death sentence handed Abu-Jamal for the 1981 shooting of Officer Daniel Faulkner on a Philadelphia street.

Abu-Jamal, a former radio reporter, was convicted of first-degree murder for the shooting and his conviction still stands.

After Faulkner stopped a car driven by Abu-Jamal’s younger brother, Abu-Jamal pulled a gun, shot the officer and sat on the curb until he was arrested by other police arriving on the scene. A year later he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die.

His guilt is no longer at issue, since a series of lower courts have upheld his conviction. But a federal judge and the U.S. court of appeals in Philadelphia set aside his death sentence because of a flaw in the jury instructions.

The judges concluded that jurors may have thought they could not give leniency to Abu-Jamal unless they agreed unanimously on a particular “mitigating circumstance.” The Supreme Court had ruled in 1988 that jurors may give leniency based on any mitigating factor, and they need not agree unanimously on the same factor.

The jurors in Abu-Jamal’s case decided that killing a police officer was an “aggravating circumstance” that warranted a death sentence. But a federal judge and the federal appeals court ruled that the death sentence in this case violated the Constitution because of the flawed jury instructions.


Prosecutors remain free to convene a new jury to decide on his punishment.


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— David Savage in Washington, D.C.